Perfection or Success?

14 October, 2012

This article has been inspired by my being in situations recently where I made mistakes, and often ended up learning the hard way. Imagine for a moment that you had absolutely no anxiety about imperfection and embraced all your 'mistakes' with an open and generous heart? What would life be like then?

The story of a news reporter interviewing a CEO of a successful software company:

Reporter: Sir, what is the secret of your success?
CEO: Two words.
Reporter: OK, what?
CEO: Right decisions.
Reporter: And how do you make the right decisions?
CEO: One word.
Reporter: And what’s that?
CEO: Experience.
Reporter: And how do you get this experience?
CEO: Two words.
Reporter: What are they, Sir?
CEO: Wrong decisions.

The message is not only to learn from incidental mistakes that we happen to make, but also actually to give ourselves permission and space to make mistakes and then purposefully learn from them. One thing we understand in NLP is that the human nervous system is programmed to learn; I believe this is the essence of NLP.

I’ve had ample opportunity to do a great deal of learning lately - both through my new role in an organisation and as an active member of the NLP community. I have made some wrong decisions, gained valuable experience, and am currently in the process of making better decisions (I hope!).

When I was practising improvisational theatre the key message was learn to fail. The idea being that the quicker you make the mistake the quicker you learn from it. It was also the embrace of imperfection - that sometimes things just don’t work out as planned, and it’s not only normal but something to be embraced.

What I have observed more often with clients - and in my own personal journey - is a bias towards the opposite: we want to ‘get it right‘. We fear making mistakes because we think they make us wrong, bad or not good enough. To avoid this potential unpleasantness we instead aspire to ‘perfection’ - and when we can’t reach it (because it doesn’t exist) the cycle of ‘wrongness’ starts all over again.

Upon much reflection, here is what I have learned about the valuable process of learning from mistakes: One word: Communication:

  • When there is a communication break down - internally between parts of ourselves, or externally with others - some form of suffering occurs
  • To the degree we are attuned - within ourselves or with others - there’s communication
  • When we are communicating in an attuned and attentive way, we are able to truly respond to ourselves and others, and learn safely

There has been a lot of ‘communication’ within the NZANLP and the NLP community in recent months; both verbally and electronically. I put my hand on heart and concede that a lot of what has come from me has been far less than attuned. I am aware of, and believe in, the highest intentions I’m endeavouring to achieve - and - I’m also committed to attuning my personal communication to get there (and learn) more safely.

From the recent conversations I’ve had with my colleagues about the NLP Vision at large, there are three clear themes that stand out:

  1. We want NLP to be a credible, recognised discipline in the world
  2. We believe we work hard in our own individual way to achieve this
  3. We want to feel valued in a supportive community

My invitation to us all is this: as imperfect beings in an imperfect world; with differing needs, values, opinions, preferences and styles, how can we pause, reflect, learn and move forward in the most attuned and attentive way possible?

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
~ Winston Churchill.

I welcome your comments and feedback.

This article was published in the October 2012 edition of Frameworks as put out by and has been influenced by the work of psychologist and buddhist teacher Tara Brach - for free audio talks and meditations.

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